There is, of course, no optimal board game collection size. Sorry. There are so many contributing factors it’s impossible to narrow to reach a comprehensive calculation. Space, budget, scope of interest. All can vary wildly. As can your level of obsession with the hobby. Then there are collectors – but they’re another breed entirely.
I’d surmise (purely anecdotally) your average new/uncommitted gamer will have 5-20 games and a dedicated gamer 50-200. With the 21-49 range reserved for those slipping from one to the other. Collections from 200-500 are common, but start to move out of practical norms for the majority of people. And beyond we’re into collector territory.
My board game collection size
A few years ago I set myself an arbitrary limit of 150 board and card games. At any given time that could be 140-160, due to games being on sale or waiting for review. Especially around Essen, where a bunch of titles tend to arrive at once.
I say its an arbitrary limit as my own criteria set out above doesn’t really apply to me:
- I don’t have space limits (I have plenty of space)
- Budget isn’t an issue (I’m lucky enough to get a lot of games cheap/free)
- I’m not limited by scope of interest (as a dabbler in design, I like to try new games)
So why bother to set a limit? First, when I got around this number my main board game shelving unit was well and truly full. Second, I realised I wasn’t playing a bunch of games I owned and really liked. And third, there were games sitting there that were very likely never to be picked – so why not give them a loving new home?
I tend to play games 3-400 times in a calendar year. Which is a lot. So, in theory, if I have 150 titles I could conceivably play them all each year. and have room for new games, other people’s games, prototypes etc. It doesn’t happen that way, but to my peace of mind it feels important that it could*.
The ‘one in, one out’ and ‘Jones’ theories
So what do you do once you’ve hit your self (or space/partner etc) prescribed board game collection size? It’s not as if new shinies aren’t going to come along and, you know, HAVE to be bought.
One in, one out makes sense. If you buy a new game, make sure one goes the other way. So it follows – if the new game you’re considering isn’t good enough to oust one you already own, why bother spending money on it?
The Jones Theory (from Game On podcast #16) builds on this. It posits gamers should limit their collections to one game of each type. So any time you want to play a particular type of game, you reach for the one you have – which should be your favourite. You can of course be as granular as you like. So one gamer may have one euro game – while another may have one set collection euro, one worker placement euro, one space-themed worker placement euro… etc.
I definitely follow the first, and loosely the second. There are quite a lot of game types I have have many multiples of, but they’re usually genres I turn yo often and am glad of the variety. Just as a personal preference, I like to have games I play once a year or so. It keeps them fresh – especially if the rules are relatively simple. But using these handy rules still doesn’t cover every collection quandary.
My current board game collection size dilemma
Right now my problem is with Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilisation. A former Top 10 game in my collection, it dropped to its lowest ever ranking this year of 19.
But despite having 150 games, I am currently considering putting a game in my Top 20 on the ‘for sale’ pile. It is undoubtedly a great game. It is ranked number three on the all-time Board Game Geek chart and deservedly so. And I’ve enjoyed some brilliant games of it. So what on earth am I thinking?
First, it is a bitch to teach. There’s a lot going on and you need to know it all from the start. Second, a full game is long. Don’t believe the box – a full two-player game is going to be at least two hours – probably at least three. Add more players, or a teach, and four/five hours is a definite possibility. Third, experience is a BIG help. And as military action is unavoidable, poor players can really be crushed. So despite being a relatively elegant and well brilliantly designed game, it is a fragile playing experience.
In addition, it is well served away from the gaming table. There’s a great approved online implementation at Boardgaming Online. And more recently publisher CGE released a brilliantly realised Through the Ages app for Android, Apple and Steam.
One out – one in…?
I find it very hard to get Through the Ages to the table. I don’t want to teach it and most people I know who play are great because they play regularly – so I get thrashed. But I like owning it – and who knows, maybe one day I’ll find someone to play it with regularly.
But then I played Nations. While similar in scope, theme and length it felt a little more accessible and forgiving. Maybe this could come in, with Through the Ages making way? But in truth the differences are marginal: being a little shorter, a little more accessible and a little less punishing aren’t enough to give it a different audience. You’ll save 10% of the time, and maybe get 10% less crushed. It isn’t enough of a difference: Nations would probably just gather dust rather than Through the Ages.
The decision – and the conclusions
As I’ve written this cathartic blog post, I’ve come to a decision: Through the Ages is going on the ‘for sale’ pile. I have it on Google Play and will probably purchase it on Steam, where I can hopefully find some equally useless players to have close-ish games with as and when I have time to make a few moves.
And the theories hold. I wouldn’t have done this if it wasn’t for my 150-game limit – but i’m glad I did. And thanks to the Jones Theory I’ve realised I don’t need a game under the ‘loooooong and brutal civ game’ category. At least not on my shelf. Instead, balancing dexterity game Junk Art has taken its place – my first in a new category. And it has already been played and enjoyed.
How’s your collection coming on?
* I’m trying to play all my 150 games this calendar year. It’s going better than expected (nearly 100 played) and has helped weed out several other games. There’s been some room for sentiment (I never play Brass, but aspire to…) – but not too much. I’ll post more about this ‘challenge’ once the year is out.